During a beach outing with her family when she's 5, a little girl is swept away by a wave and drowns. In another version of that trip, though, an amateur painter swims out and saves her. Ursula's many lives grow in and out of each other in Kate Atkinson's new novel.
Athletes used to lead the charge for social change all the time, but as sports figures started making more in endorsement deals, their politics sometimes took a backseat to their pocketbooks. Sportswriter Dave Zirin's new book is about the uneasy confluence of sports and politics over the years.
Since the major religious festivals of the Spring Equinox cycle are underway I thought I’d take a look at two romance writers whose Christian faith informs their writing. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The very word ‘romance’ has in it the mystery and ancient meaning of Rome.” But this mystery can have a sinister aspect as well as a revelatory one and for the writers I spoke with, Anne Brooke and Dennis Paul Stradford, both meanings are present.
I “discovered” British Male/Male romance writer Anne Brooke when she was featured in Geoffrey Knight’s Why Straight Women Love Gay Romance (MLR Books, 2012). She intrigued me because she described writing gay erotic romance as a way of “coming out” to fellow Christians. Two of her books were already on my way too long Amazon wish list—Where You Hurt the Most (Riptide Publishing, 2012) and A Stranger’s Touch (Amber Allure Press, 2010). Since then I’ve bought those and several others by Brooke.
When I asked her how her faith influenced her as an M/M romance writer, Brooke replied, “I think my faith is always there—it’s a part of who I am and how I see myself so it can’t help but appear in what I write as well. That said, I don’t class myself as a writer of Christian fiction, as I believe life is actually a lot more complicated than that.”
As far as her books are concerned, she said, “I think a lot [of them] focus on a spiritual or personal journey for the main character or characters—like them, I’d probably see myself as a loner seeking something. For me, I find a hint of that something in Christ, but I don’t want all my characters to have the same experience. I hate pushing my faith on other people so why should I do it with the people I’m writing about?”
In The Bones of Summer (Dreamspinner Press, 2009) struggling London model Craig Robertson, who is haunted by his first lover’s mysterious disappearance seven years prior, returns to his rural Devon roots to confront the ghosts of his fundamentalist past. He is assisted in this journey of self-discovery by his new love, private eye Paul Maloney. Maloney also appeared in Brooke’s bestseller, Maloney’s Law, which is being reissued by Amber Allure in April 2013.
“At heart, I think both Maloney’s Law and The Bones of Summer are very positive about faith and spiritual pathways,” Brooke explained. “Both Paul and Craig have their own beliefs which they express in ways that are important to them, though they may not fit in with the church structures they have experience of. Love is a key issue in their lives, and also loyalty, trust and friendship—all of which are gifts from God, in my view.”
By writing about Craig’s fundamentalist youth, “I was exorcising my own demons,” Brooke said. “In my mid-twenties, I went through a very bad time in the evangelical church I worshipped at, and felt as if my beliefs were being impossibly squeezed into a shape they just wouldn’t go in. At one point, I even told God that enough was enough, and I wasn’t a Christian anymore, as I simply couldn’t be one. Today I believe God took me through that time, which was incredibly tough, so I could walk away from that particular church tradition and find Him afresh in another and in a more fulfilling way. Of course, God might now be saying the same thing to me when it comes to the Church of England, but that’s an issue I still need to give some serious thought to.”
Brooke is referring to her own activism for gay and women’s rights in the Anglican Church. “I wouldn’t describe myself as an activist,” she said. “Certainly, I make my views known online, and have been in correspondence with both the local Bishop and my MP about women in the church and gay marriage rights.” Brooke has found that, “the misogyny and homophobia within the Church of England increasingly galls me. It’s not showing me the Christian God I want to follow, and that’s deeply upsetting.”
Nonetheless, Brooke keeps searching. “I find church extremely difficult and God a mystery. Then again, maybe I’m living proof that you don’t have to be a team player or understand one iota of what God is about to be a Christian. I definitely don’t know the answers, and I’m not even sure what some of the questions mean!”
Though Brooke mentioned that, “I don’t believe I’m the sort of Christian who’s any kind of an example to anyone,” for me she’s been an important witness that I do not have to divide my life between my gayness and my faith. I confess that as a gay romance reviewer I sometimes wonder if some of the steamier sex scenes I am reading are subject matter for an examination of conscience.
On the topic of sex, Brooke said, “Let’s be honest. Sex is fun—who wouldn’t want to write about it? Beyond that, writing about sex makes me feel fully human and alive, as sex is part of who we all are.” She added that as a writer, “What matters more is that the sexual content is right for the work in question and I’m doing the best job of describing it that I can, because those are the abilities I believe God has given me. God doesn’t have an issue with sex or writing it.”
Part of Brooke’s self-discovery as a writer of gay erotic romance was her acceptance of her “male voice.” “I felt very guilty about how much I thought about sex, and how male the voice in my head always was, and still is.” She explained that as an evangelical, “I thought that was wrong and tried to deny or ignore it. When I began writing gay fiction, that voice in my head became ever stronger and I’ve grown to understand that it’s part of who I am and part of the way God made me, and I’ve come to rejoice in it. It’s interesting that becoming a writer in this way helped me free up how I express and live out my faith, and vice versa. I do also think that the more I write in that gay male voice, the more important equality, women’s rights and GLBTQ rights become to me. So it’s a ‘coming out’ both as a writer and a person, for me.”
Brooke is a busy writer. Along with the reissue of Maloney’s Law from Amber Allure in April, Pink Champagne and Apple Juice, a romantic straight comedy set in a gay nightclub, will be out from Musa Publishing later in 2013; the bisexual thriller, Thorn in the Flesh, will be published later this year by Untreed Reads, and the second in her Gathandrian fantasy trilogy (featuring gay scribe Simon Hartstongue), Hallsfoot’s Battle, is due out shortly from Bluewood Publishing. All six of her popular Delaney gay erotic ménage stories will be published as a paperback collection in May from Amber Allure .
She claims that much of her writing life has been spent “working distinctly below the radar” since she feels that readers don’t quite know how to take her eclectic mix of erotic romance and literary fiction. “My husband reads a lot of my other work, but promises to read the gay erotic books as soon as he’s old enough to do so…” she joked.
For Lent, she said, “I was planning on giving up chocolate, but thought it would be too difficult. Instead, I have given up thinking bitchy thoughts about people and am trying to be nice instead.” For her chocolate plum cake recipe, go to http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3393/prune-and-chocolate-torte, and for more Anne Brooke go to www.annebrooke.com.
San Francisco poet and performance artist, Lloyd Stensrud, recommended Dennis Paul Stradford to me and I quickly read his gay Catholic “romance” novels Blessed and Betrayed and the sequel, Betrayed and Redeemed (Wasteland Press, 2011 and 2013). When I asked for an interview, Stradford introduced himself as “a Christian who happens to be gay, Catholic, American, male, white and tall—all of which are God’s gifts and at the same time limitations by which I must work out a way to love myself, other people and life.” (Is tall and handsome a limitation?) Stradford “officially” left seminary one week before his ordination to the priesthood, although, he said, “I spent a year in a parish as a deacon.” This experience provided the background for his two novels about priestly gay love and betrayal that span the history of the modern church from the heady decade after Vatican II to the contemporary church of the 21st century. When I asked Stradford if the sexual encounters he writes about were based on real-life incidents in seminary, he replied, “Let’s just say that the most bizarre events were all true and only the mundane was made up.”
In his first novel, Blessed and Betrayed, Stradford’s protagonist and alter ego, Jim Steiner, is an earnest young seminarian and anti-war activist who falls in love with his fellow-seminarian, the ambitious and charming, Al Pevehaus. Al is a rising clerical star who betrays his love for Jim in his climb up the hierarchy of priestly power. Fast forward from the late 60s to the mid-2000s, and Father Jim is now a modest parish priest in a largely Hispanic parish in the South Bay and he’s in an long term relationship with a Catholic school teacher named David. Father Al is a San Francisco political power player with a nineteen-year-old lover, Billy Fernandez. Billy is an illegal immigrant who Father Al has been boinking since he was sixteen. Father Al wants to toss Billy aside in his quest to erect a new multi-million dollar cathedral in San Francisco and he puts Father Jim’s relationship with David at risk when he enlists him as the go-between when Billy threatens blackmail. It’s not exactly a spoiler alert to say that things don’t turn out well for Billy.
We continue to follow Billy’s story in the sequel, Betrayed and Redeemed, and Stradford said that Billy’s redemptive experiences of authentic love and faith “inspire him to be a priest,” that Billy’s story expresses “my hope for the Church. In each of my novels there are several characters who I hope make you want to be a Christian, who one feels loved by and who inspire one to live a real and authentic life. This is the real gift of Catholicism, that somehow within its very human and screwed up system, real sanctity can be found. These people are the only reason to hang around, and in my experience they are worth it.”
On the topic of writing and religion, he said, “I find it impossible to write characters and plots that don’t have the basic faith component embedded within. It always ends up being religious in one way or another because it is human, and I think every human is religious, even atheists. We all have our gods and our demons. Life is the drama of the battle between them that forms our character, our heartaches and our loves. That is what I find myself writing about.”
Like Anne Brooke, Stradford said that in his books, “I think the sexual content is not only justified but necessary. I would have put more sex scenes into the books, but I thought they might be redundant. Sex is one of our basic drives and creates a huge desire for connection with another human being. Some of us find the desires focused on people of our same sex, others not. This is how God works: through our desires.” He added, “I just hope that I wrote the sex scenes well enough to capture the desire, fear, courage and joy of experiencing sex, especially when one is young. It’s all part of the spiritual drama of our lives and God is constantly intervening to spur our growth toward love.”
Al’s seduction and betrayal of both Jim and the minor Billy in “Blessed and Betrayed” is about power more than sex, Stradford explained. “Some in the Church have tried to scapegoat homosexuals and the acceptance of the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ as the cause [for priestly sexual abuse]. My experience in the seminary and afterwards was that those who were gay dealt with it (whether they were celibate or freely had relationships and sex) and tried to continue with their ministry, like Jim does, and never preyed on children or teenagers. It was those who were in complete denial of their sexuality, who suppressed their every desire and convoluted their spiritual life to ‘pray away’ their sexual nature that wound up attacking children. For them it became a ‘power play,’ using their ‘holy priesthood’ as the tool.” Stradford also feels that the Church’s cover-up of the abuse “wasn’t just the institution trying to protect itself from bad publicity, but the heresy that the cult of the priestly class must be protected.”
He explained that, “For those on the inside of the priestly caste, the rules are different. So much bad behavior by priests—alcoholism, drug use, gambling, stealing, sexual impropriety and laziness—has always been excused by religious superiors. All these issues are expected to be dealt with in the confessional. As far as I know, there is no annual review of any priest’s performance or fitness for office such as you would find in any business or professional organization. Since there are no criteria for excellence or poor performance, and no review process, the only time issues rise to the attention of a bishop is when there is about to be a scandal. As there is a severe shortage of priests, problems just get moved around. Partly because of celibacy, the Church is obsessed with sex. Many of its teachings are all biologically sex based, which is so backward and anatomical that the hierarchy have become caught in a web of causation that makes them believe simple things are catastrophic, e.g. condoms might lead to gay marriage, which will lead to the end of procreation, the family, and ultimately the human race. Of course, if everyone was a celibate priest, we wouldn’t have these problems!”
The first step for reforming the Church is to end the cult of the priestly caste, Stradford believes. “I hope that the whole structure comes crashing down on itself. It could be a process, but steps in the right direction are first ordaining married men (whether gay or straight), ordaining women and then ordaining priests for only a set period of time, some five or ten years. I think requiring celibacy is a large part of keeping the priest ‘sacred.’ The hands that are consecrated with the sacred oil should touch the host and the crotch. All is sacred and God-made, each with a purpose.”
“I’ve started another book,” Stradford revealed, “about a gay twenty-something who gets out of drug rehab and winds up working as a gardener at a Trappist monastery. Things happen and he winds up falling in love with a monk and trying his hand at the monastic life. He soon finds out that leaving ‘the world’ does not mean leaving behind intrigue, crazy thinking, addictions, passions or one’s demons. If anything, it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire.” He is also planning a third book in the “Betrayed” series.
Stradford is a member of Guy Writers, a group of about ten gay men who meet once a month in San Francisco to workshop each other’s writing. “I love Christopher Isherwood and I think his writings have influenced my view of faith, sex and love.” He also admires the writing of Michael Cunningham and Edmund White; “I just hope I can learn to write as well as them.”
What did he give up for Lent? “Internalized homophobia! Actually not a joke. I am working with another gay man in my parish to do a short series on healing internalized homophobia, particularly that caused by the Church and Catholicism. I am hoping that through prayer, honest confession and forgiveness, I can heal some of the wounds that have kept me from loving others as much as my heart desires.”
Cross-posted from the FTRF Blog
Applications are now open for FTRF’s 2013 Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund Banned Books Week event grants. Grants in the amounts of $2,500 and $1,000 will be given to organizations in support of “Read-Outs” or other activities that celebrate Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 30, 2013).
Applications will be accepted through April 30, 2013, and the announcements will be made in June.
Organizations are required to submit an event description, timeline and budget with their application; they also will agree to provide a written report, photos and video from their event(s) to FTRF following Banned Books Week. Only not-for-profit organizations may apply. They need not have official 501(c) 3 status. Krug Fund grants cannot be used to buy computer hardware.
Going forward beginning in 2013, organizations may only be awarded grants twice within a six-year period.
Contact Jonathan Kelley at email@example.com with questions, or call (800) 545-2433, ext.4226.
“The media has replaced every institution”—Fran Lebowitz is always right, isn’t she? Yet even I think she could not foretell the extent of her accuracy in light of the digital age and the rise of “new media.” Those of us who participate in the LGBT bloggosphere—writers, editors, photographers, videographers, and the occasional journalist—know that while the democratization of new media in the digital age has enabled even the casual online interloper to have a voice, it has become an increasing challenge for many of us (especially for those of us who reside outside the section of the G in the LGBT umbrella) to have our voices heard, and specifically when these voices articulate non-normative, queer concerns or critiques of the capitalist (racist and misogynist) system into which we desperately stuff our pink dollars…for “acceptance.”
If the media has replaced every institution, or because the media has replaced every institution, it is no wonder that the slowly building, yet increasingly noticeable, political fragmentation of the LGBT community finds a corollary in LGBT media—particularly regarding the question of content. This political fragmentation is one typically presented in the binarized model of “gay” versus “queer” politics, with gay politics centralizing around the objective for systemic acceptance and inclusion, and primarily, as we have witnessed over the past twenty odd years, the fight for inclusion into the traditional institutions of marriage and the military. (Now, to invoke Lebowitz’s quip in Public Speaking, we can’t even play the artful dodger to these institutions; being gay was the “easy way out” not too long ago.)
Let me be specific: the question of content is the question of the LGBT political and media communities. Not since the ‘80s, when the HIV/AIDS crisis framed our politics and our dialogue, have we been at a loss for a single, unified message, narrative, or agenda.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing Edie Windsor’s DOMA case (Windsor v. the United States) and the justices will, suggestively, deliver their verdict by the end of June—aka Pride Month. DOMA will be overturned. The mainstream gay agenda—minus the emphatic “It Gets Better Campaign”—will successfully achieve closure on a late midsummer’s night. The mainstreaming of the LGBT community in the media has been arguably more successful: visibility is ubiquitous, from talking heads (Anderson, Ellen, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Don Lemon, Robin Roberts, Andy Cohen) to TV series (Modern Family, GLEE, any show on Bravo). Media has become so gay.
The oh-so-Whedonesque question of “where do we go from here” (“The battle’s done / and we kinda won / so we sound our victory cheer”) was on the minds of many LGBT media types at the NLGJA-sponsored LGBT Media Convening meeting held several weeks ago in Philadelphia. Roughly six dozen people in LGBT media convened over the course of the weekend in late February to discuss the current state of LGBT affairs. I was not invited—but my girlfriend was. So I tagged along and observed the “convening” from outside the conference room, from the comfort of my hotel room and my Twitter account, with frequent personal messages from friends, including said girlfriend, inside the meeting to keep me abreast of ongoing events. I also joined an impromptu gathering of the “women’s caucus” for dinner Saturday night—the Philly girl had to play guide, so to speak.
Of course, there were only a smattering of female-identified, cis and transgendered persons among the sea of older white men. When I mentioned the gender imbalance on Twitter a gay male journalist partaking in the convening said that women comprised over 30% of those in attendance—a number that my Saturday night dining companions contended was a stretch of the imagination, not quite the social desirability bias as an effect of gender hypersensitivity caused by an overestimating of the number of women (or generally any minority) in the room. Even though a gross exaggeration, I retorted that the number of women journalists (regardless of their sexuality, L, B or anything in between) should be over 50%. Period.
My digression is about the continually repressed position of women in LGBT media mirrors mainstream media, for sure, and I mention it not simply to vent my frustration but to reflect on the LGBT movement and to think about a collective future in terms of a political agenda.
You see, as an Act Up activist and seminal LGBT media figure (who shall remain nameless) explained to me that fine Philly weekend, the LGBT movement unified in the ‘80s because gay men—gay white men—realized they were dying and that they needed help. How To Survive a Plague portrays how men and women united at this time: women, lesbian women, rallied as nurses, as grassroots organizers, and as caretakers, when gay men called upon them. These men—much like the white feminists of the ‘60s and ‘70s who turned to African-American women with activist experience garnered throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s—turned to women for the activist expertise they acquired during the feminist movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Fast forward to 2013, the major discourse of the LGBT movement is no longer HIV/AIDS (as the Bilerico Project noted recently), is no longer DADT, and, come this summer, will no longer be DOMA. That is, there is, or will shortly be (depending on how you perceive it), no unifying or unified agenda. In this regard, as many women at the convening suggested, the dynamics of the LGBT community has returned to pre-HIV/AIDS days, with the most noticeable separation existing between the political agenda of the Gs and the LBTs.
How LGBT media has worked this fragmentation, it seems, is as follows:
> The gay media has continued its focus on mainstreaming the LGBT community at large through campaigns about acceptance, from institutional access to anti-bullying efforts.
> A segment of the younger Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are trying to reimagine the LGBT community in terms of nostalgia (in a general, not necessarily positivist, sense) around HIV/AIDS. This reimagining—manifest in documentaries like How to Survive a Plague and texts like Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind—take the form of asserting history, particularly asserting that HIV/AIDS is the history of all LGBT and queer people today. While strategies associated with this reimagining are in part applied to other queer political activisms (the BDS movement stateside being the most prominent appropriation), this politics is not wholly future-oriented but is an attempt to create and solidify an “LGBT History.” To be honest, while I understand how the AIDS crisis affected the community at large, it holds very little relevance to me as a 32 year-old lesbian woman, and I do not feel guilty for creating my own history outside of this discourse.
> The bisexual media community, according to activist Faith Cheltenham, who I interviewed recently at AfterEllen, is focused on definition, on creating a political space, and on addressing biphobia on the levels of homosexism and hetersexism.
> Trans media has, in my opinion, done the most feminist work recently and is leading the way on gender equality. From NCTE Executive Director Mara Kiesling to #GirlsLikeUs founder Janet Mock, transwomen have transformed and given new life to the feminist movement. In 2012, as documented at NCTE’s website, this community has seen amazing political and legislative successes. It is my personal belief that lesbians and all queer women should more actively build a coalition with transwomen in order to more effectively tackle gender inequality and discrimination.
> Sensing the completion of the overarching gay agenda stateside, a segment of the US media—in collaboration with a dozen or so famous queer academics (including many academidykes)—has turned its focus outward to international causes, with particular attention being given to pinkwashing by the state of Israel. The apartheid in Israel is indeed a human rights violation, yet a part of me remains confused about the reasons why queers have rallied around this particular issue—simply claiming the US’s financial investment in Israel isn’t a substantive enough cause, considering that the US makes neo-imperialist investments around the globe (and I hear from private sector friends that Africa is the place to “invest” these days).
> Some queers, understanding that significant work still needs to be done within the US, have directed their focus on to issues that have been covered by the band-aids of institutional access (marriage, most specifically), such as poverty, immigration, and employment and housing discrimination. These queers are advancing a kind of Marxist critique of the capitalist system that penalizes non-traditional, non-hetero, ways of living—not to mention that the system perpetuates classism and racism (but, fyi, Angela Davis was telling us this in the ‘60s, folks). The Barnard Center for Research on Women’s A New Queer Agenda epitomizes the effort to refocus and expand the movement around economic issues.
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge the end of the LGBT movement as we’ve known it over the last thirty years or so. The media is reflecting this change: mainstream media ventures like HuffPo and Buzzfeed have integrated LGBT content onto their sites, gay weddings are featured in the New York Times. The subsequent fragmentation of the community signals closure, a successful, not unsatisfactory, one. The question of content is not one that implies a dearth of material, not in the least; the question of content only becomes the question when a unified agenda or singular narrative is the objective, when the Ls, the Gs, the Bs, and the Ts decide that a new coalition is in order.
The job of media is not just to reflect its culture. With a certain fingerspitzengefühl we are responsible for articulating a new agenda, a new politics, even a new aesthetics. In this vein, let LGBT media, too, come to a close. Let it—with all its queer tendencies and attention to otherness and difference, and liberty and justice—be reborn in discourses about issues unaddressed.
Also: Sheryl Sandberg's spokesperson reportedly lashes out at a critic; Sylvia Plath's children's book; and the Atlas Shrugged adaptation no one asked for.
Read an exclusive excerpt of Kate Atkinson's new novel, Life After Life. It follows the multiple lives of Ursula Beresford Todd — born on a snowy night in 1910, in one life she dies immediately, but in others she grows and lives against the backdrop of a Britain descending into war.
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hristopher Bram is the author of nine novels, including the book that became the movie Gods and Monsters. His most recent book is Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America. He grew up in Virginia, where he was a paperboy and an Eagle Scout. He currently lives in New York and he teaches at the Gallatin School of New York University. Four of his novels–Surprising Myself, Hold Tight, In Memory of Angel Clare, and Gossip–will be reissued in June by Open Road.
Recently, I was able to interview Christopher Bram about his work, support of the LGBT community and his participation in Lambda’s LGBT Writers in Schools program. I have admired Christopher’s work as well as his dedication to promoting diversity and the history of LGBT literature.
How important was your involvement in the LGBT community at the beginning of your writing career?
It was invaluble. In fact, I don’t know where I’d be without it. I had been writing steadily since college, but wasn’t able to sell anything until I wrote my first “gay” story in 1977. I was able to publish it in Christopher Street magazine. And I realized I could write about this secret thing that mattered to me and not only sell it, but produce my best writing. So I wrote more. My imagination was constantly being invaded by stories that nobody was telling yet. If there hadn’t been a gay community–which is a lively mix of audience and market and political belief–I know I could not have written and published nine novels.
Considering how successful you have been as a writer, do you find it important to stay connected and supportive of the LGBT community?
Absolutely. Gay people are my best readers. They help to keep me honest. I’m sure I have some straight readers, too, but based on the reviews they post on Goodreads and elsewhere, they don’t always understand what I’m doing. Gay readers have been in the same places I’ve been and they get my stories–for the most part. (Okay, they can misunderstand me, too, but their misunderstandings tend to be more interesting.)
Why do you think it is important to talk about LGBT writers and literature?
Reading is a very private experience, so private it can seem solipsistic at times. It’s necessary to talk about books now and then, just to get out of our heads and into the world. I believe that’s true for all literature, but it’s especially true of LGBT literature. We read in order to learn we’re not alone, but you still need to compare your private experience with the experiences of other readers.
The writing is important as history, too. Because we forget. When I started writing Eminent Outlaws, I knew in an abstract way how far we’d come in the past sixty years. But to read those earlier novels and research the lives of the men who wrote them was eye-opening. It’s one thing to be told that life was harder in the Fifties or Sixties. But when you go back to a novel about it like Giovanni’s Room or A Single Man, the experience is made painfully real and immediate. These books provide us with a map of where we’ve been and–maybe–where we’re going.
Do you think that LGBT literature has a place in our classrooms?
Definitely. There are committed readers who’ll read anyway, but, the world being what it is, many people read only in school. If they read the right books there, however, books that speak to them personally and directly, they will keep reading for the rest of their lives. This is especially true of LGBT books. A good teacher can make sure they will read in the most open, responsive manner. And straight students, too, can enjoy these books. After all, we are a good story.
You have recently done a visit with a university through our LGBT Writers in Schools program. Why did you decide to participate in our program and what was your experience?
I Skyped with a class at the University of Wisconsin back in November and it was an excellent experience. They had read one of my older novels, Gossip. They asked good questions and made me see my own book in a new light. And it was nice just to see what my readers look like. Writing can be an overly private, solipsistic experience itself. So it was wonderful to meet flesh-and-blood readers.
Why is it important for gay and straight students to read LGBT works?
Simply to get as much life experience as they can. Which is also why everybody should read all kinds of literature. It gives us a wider frame of reference. There’s nothing like good fiction to put you inside another person’s skin and enable you to see things you wouldn’t see otherwise. You can experience a new gender, or nationality, or race, or sexuality. You can even experience your own identity with a freshness and clarity that’s impossible to find in everyday life.
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The Office for Intellectual Freedom sponsors IFAction, an email list for those who would like updated information on news affecting intellectual freedom, censorship, privacy, access to information, and more. Click here to subscribe to this list. For an archive of all list postings since 1996, visit the IF Action archive. Below is a sample of articles from March 18–24, 2013.
Privacy, Surveillance, and Cybersecurity
Bruce Schneier: The Internet is a surveillance state
Censorship and Free Speech
Access and Intellectual Property Protection
Maya Angelou spent much of her childhood being raised by her grandmother in Arkansas, but as a young teenager, she returned to live with her mother, Vivian Baxter. Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom looks back on the long process of reconciliation with the woman who sent her away.
Critic Alan Cheuse reviews the new novel All That Is by James Salter.
In his latest book, the author of Beautiful Boy describes a new way of treating substance addiction and related mental illnesses. "What we know now is that addicts aren't immoral, they aren't weak," he says. "They're ill."
Debbie Reynolds has been a movie star for more than 60 years. Her new memoir, Unsinkable, looks back on her decades in the business, her family and her children — and a naughty story or two about drunken Hollywood greats.
In Taiye Selasi's debut novel, members of the Sai family have trouble assimilating both in the United States and while in Ghana for the patriarch's funeral. Host Michel Martin speaks with Selasi about her novel and the immigrant experience.
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Amid a literary landscape rife with metafictional and postmodern high jinks, Jill McCorkle has dared to write a heartwarmer set largely in a retirement home. Her Life After Life celebrates late-life epiphanies and old-fashioned kindness.
Samantha “Sam” Murphy’s business is leading people up the challenging Himalayan peak of Annapurna I. She’s proud of the fact that in all the years she’s been at it, she’s not lost one hiker during the dangerous journey. Murphy’s Law as Sam knows it is that everyone returns from the mountain alive, no exceptions. Even though Sam keeps on her toes ensuring everyone else’s well-being, she’s constantly battling against being overcome by the memories of her own bitter loss of years ago—the past that she’s still grieving, and the past with which she’s still uncomfortable. Because of her own emotional turmoil, she’s determined to keep her distance from the charming Dr. Olivia Bradshaw, especially when the doctor offers her a chance for a little recreational diversion on the trip. It’s not that Sam isn’t up for such things. It’s just that there’s something about Olivia that makes Sam realize an affair with her might lead to more than she bargained for. Olivia has some demons of her own to conquer. Never one to actually invest in a relationship, she’s drawn to Sam with feelings that are new to her—and she battles to figure out what she wants to do with them, because if she yields to them, she’s afraid her walls will come tumbling down around her.
As we join the troupe Dr. Bradshaw has assembled for a fund raising trip up the mountain, we meet a diverse group of people. Some are unlikely candidates for the trek; some are perfect for the team. Not all will make it up the mountain. Who does and who doesn’t makes for some interesting surprises. Sam’s team of Nepalese natives are delightful minor characters moving in the shadows to help make the trip successful. It quickly becomes clear that they are experienced climbers and devoted to Sam and her mountainous endeavors. As the adventure progresses, we see that, without Sam and her team, Olivia and friends would be in deep trouble. There are perilous obstacles to be overcome as the remaining group makes the final attack on the mountain. As they continue the grueling trip upward, more and more of what each person is made is exposed to the reader. The trip has taken weeks, more to acclimate to the breath-robbing high altitude than from shear distance. The barriers and hindrances are larger than life as they become symbols for the issues that Sam and Olivia must deal with if there is to be any chance that they will be able to have a real relationship.
In Murphy’s Law, Wallace has given us well drawn descriptions of both the beauty and the treachery of the mountain. The main characters quickly seem like familiar friends and we long for them to overcome adversity and fill the crevasses they carry in their hearts. The complexity of their personalities makes us willing to follow them up the mountain to see if they will succeed in reaching the top and conquering their personal issues and their loneliness and longing.
The mountain’s metaphor for love becomes clear during the reading. It’s a demanding trek up the mountain with obstacles to be conquered and adversity to be surmounted. Two women are forced to face their fear of intimacy and if they succeed, triumphant love is in their future. However, before that can happen, they have a great deal of work to do. It would be easier just to sit on the side of the hiking path and let all the other climbers pass them by, but with two people the likes of Sam Murphy and Olivia Bradshaw, that’s not likely to happen. Prepare to be thrilled by a love story filled with high adventure as they move toward an ending as turbulent as the weather on a Himalayan peak.
By Yolanda Wallace
Paperback, 9781602827738, 184 pp.
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At this year’s AWP, I had the pleasure of reading in a four-hour, cross-genre literary marathon called Queertopia at Boston’s Club Café. I was excited to receive an invitation to participate, but even more excited when I learned that I would be reading in the same segment of the program with one of my new favorite writers, Aaron Smith.
Only the week before the conference, Denise Duhamel, my friend and faculty mentor at Florida International University, left a copy of Aaron’s book, Appetite (University of Pittsburgh Press), in my department mailbox. She mentioned that she had chosen his poem “What It Feels Like to be Aaron Smith” for Best American Poetry 2013 and wondered whether I knew his work. I didn’t. But no one who reads Aaron’s work stays a stranger for long. The poems are immediate, intimate, astonishing in their unabashed candor, their wicked and insightful humor. This is another way of saying I laughed as hard as I cried, that I looked up from the book believing Aaron himself must be standing in the doorway or sitting in the next room. He was that close. I felt I knew him already, the way the best post-confessional poets can leap, fully embodied, from the page into our lives.
At Queertopia, mine was the first name called for the raffle. An enticing array of newly released books and literary journals had been donated, but I chose Appetite without hesitation. I wanted to mark on the pages and turn down the corners and annotate the lovely white margins of my very own copy. I also wanted to write this review.
The third section of Aaron’s book is a seven-page list poem called “I love the part” where the speaker conducts a plangent, ekphrastic exploration of a wide range of popular movies, including Moonstruck, Good Will Hunting, Steel Magnolias, The Wizard of Oz, and Casino Royale. Each stanza begins “I love the part,” an anaphoric anchor that allows Smith to riff on each film with a mix of sharp wit and sincere self-reflection. One of my favorite examples is as follows:
I love the part in The Object of My Affection where the guy with bushy eyebrows says to Paul Rudd: “I’ll talk to you about poetry.” It was the nineties, and I thought I could find that guy if I made a list of qualities I wanted in a man and thought positive thoughts. It wasn’t true.
I love all the parts in Aaron’s “I love the part,” and I love the gestalt that emerges from reading all the parts of this book. But since I can’t respond to each poem—let alone each part of each poem—with the close attention it deserves, I will consider here a triptych of poems that represents the scope and risk I admire most in Smith’s project.
For the left panel, I consider “After All These Years You Know They Were Wrong about the Sadness of Men Who Love Men,” the most touching poem in Appetite. Here Aaron is working at the outer limits of tenderness, walking gracefully along that tightrope where so many tumble into self-indulgence or misplaced sentimentality. The poem is simple, direct, as Aaron’s poems typically are:
It’s Palm Springs and you’ve slipped away
from a day of swimming and drinking to lie
for a minute with your eyes closed
in the other room while the air-conditioner
moan-groans outside the window—your body
chilled from sunburn and untouched
I experience this scene viscerally, the soothing cool air on my burned body, the speaker’s relief to be out of the sun and also his loneliness as he withdraws from the group. The second person implicates me in what has been and what is to come. The speaker tells me that I (in the form of “you”) begin to listen to conversations happening all around me in the adjacent hotel rooms. I am so close to the speaker at this moment that when I hear “Has anyone seen Aaron?” I want to answer on his behalf: “Yes, I’m right here!”
But that’s where the poem turns: “You don’t say anything but listen to the man/ saying your name.” Why doesn’t he speak up? They’re looking for him. They want to include him. The speaker makes me wait for an explanation, just as he waits to respond to the man calling for him. It is one of the most honest and poignant epiphanies I have read at the end of a poem in a long time—nothing forced, the speaker’s vulnerability palpable in these last three lines:
to remember this. You’ve waited
your whole life for them to miss you.
For the right panel, I consider “Fat Ass,” the most irreverent and hilarious poem in Appetite. This is Aaron playfully subverting the reader’s expectations of permissible content in poems. As a gay man in a culture that routinely denies his full citizenship, both legal and social, Smith is writing from the perspective of an outsider who is also an insider, an outsider who understands that everyone is implicated in the false binaries of our society, all those vexing, hierarchical, and deeply political categories of “us” and “them.” Yet, in the philosophy of the poem, no one is exempt from labels, and no one should be. No one is too high, or mighty, to be equalized by this phrase: “fat ass.” There is no one, the poet-speaker included, who cannot be cut down to size for their excesses, both literal and symbolic, and I think, profoundly American:
The woman in the next cubicle: fat ass,
the man on the train: fat ass […]
__________Me on my fourth cookie:
fat ass. My mom in her chair: fat ass […]
_________David Lehman: Best American
Fat Ass. Jesus fat ass. The devil fat ass.
The fat ass pope in his extra big fat ass robe.
Not since I first encountered “The Pope’s Penis” by Sharon Olds have I found myself looking over my shoulder as I read, wondering if I was allowed to enjoy the power and verve of the poem as much as I did. Likewise, just reading “Fat Ass” makes me feel like a renegade while at once exploding the boundaries of what I can imagine myself writing.
The central panel of this triptych, and the most challenging poem of the book for me, is called “The Problem with Straight People (What We Say Behind Your Backs).” This poem frightened me on first read with its intensity, the ferocity of the concluding litany (“I hate straight students who”…, “I hate straight men who”…, “I hate straight women who”…, “I hate straight people who”…), and most of all, because I had thought, if not voiced, most of the sentiments expressed in the poem. Reading it, I felt guilty, exposed:
Fuck straight women who don’t think
what we do is fuck ,
and fuck straight women who don’t ask
about my lover!
I just want to hold Michele’s hand
without straight men yelling out the car window.
Can one thing in the world
have nothing to do with them?
I’d like to rip their balls off!
Then, I remembered reading this poem last year in Court Green and how it had made so uncomfortable I forgot having read it, forgot the name of the poet who had written it. I became a 1950s housewife on the spot, terrified that someone would glimpse me in my hot rollers carrying my dirty laundry to the machine. I didn’t want straight people to know that any of them had ever provoked any of us, gotten under our skin, rattled us. I didn’t want them to know that we were capable of the kind of capacious anger expressed in this poem:
Max after the art opening:
Sometimes I hate straight people so much
I want to kill them. That’s why
I don’t write. I can’t say that in a book
And that’s all I want to say.
Now I think I needed this poem more than any of the straight people who may have read it or who will read it in the future. “The Problem with Straight People” does what the whole book does, what the best art does, too: it forces an issue, confronts a taboo, says the unsayable, breaks a silence—the silence that surrounds our most paralyzing human emotions: shame, sadness, and in this case, rage.
Appetite reminds me I am hungry, articulates my hunger in new ways, and feeds me well. Most of all, this book whets my appetite for more from Aaron Smith.
By Aaron Smith
University of Pittsburgh Press
Paperback, 9780822962199, 72 pp.
Cross-posted at the IFRT Blog.
We’re 40 this year! Come help us celebrate, at the Chicago Cultural Center, during the Annual ALA conference this summer!
Tickets available now! Visit http://www.ala.org/ifrt/ifrt-40th-anniversary-celebration for more information
CHICAGO – After 40 years of defending and upholding First Amendment rights, it is time for a party. Come join the Intellectual Freedom Round Table
(IFRT) from 7:30 – 10 p.m. on Friday, June 28, 2013 at the magnificent Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St. at Michigan Ave.) for our 40th Anniversary Celebration. This event is held in conjunction with the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.
Tickets for this worthy event are $30 for IFRT members and $40 for non-members. If you are not a member, consider joining IFRT for only $15 and become involved in some of the most important issues in the library community. Tickets for students are $20. All tickets are available via ALA’s Annual Conference registration system (note: you do not have to register for the Annual Conference to attend). Refreshments, including signature cocktails, will be served.
Proceeds from this event will benefit IFRT’s prestigious John Phillip Immroth Memorial Award, honoring the courage, dedication and contribution of an individual or group setting the finest example for the defense and furtherance of the principles of intellectual freedom. The award was named for John Phillip Immroth, founder and first chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table in 1973. ”The winners of this award through the years have, without exception, been inspirational to all of us who know the kind of risk and dedication it takes to stand up for intellectual freedom,” said Charles Kratz, chair of the Immroth Award committee. ”Our goal is to raise $10,000 for the Immroth Award, so that it can continue to honor those who richly deserve it for years to come.” The 2013 Immroth Award recipient will be announced later this spring.
Sponsorship opportunities are available to individuals and organizations who wish to help support the event at a higher level. Sponsorship levels are $100 (Defender), $250 (Advocate) and $500 (Champion) and include tickets, recognition in the program and other benefits. Sponsorship donations above the price of the tickets are tax deductible. To become a sponsor of the IFRT 40th anniversary celebration, contact Shumeca Pickett firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 280-4220.
“The IFRT 40th Anniversary celebration will be a great opportunity to bring together long-standing and brand new members of the Intellectual Freedom community to honor our past and look forward to our future,” says Julia Warga, chair of IFRT. “I invite everyone to come and share in what promises to be a truly delightful event!”
The rich and good-looking get a taste of life among the 99 percent in Jonathan Dee's novels. In A Thousand Pardons, his protagonist, Helen Armstead, finds a secret talent for getting powerful men to apologize after her marriage falls apart and she is forced to enter the working world.